Migrants onboard MV Aquarius to enter Malta as European states agree on sharing responsibility

Malta will be making a concession allowing the vessel to enter its port, serving as a logistical base before all 141 migrants are distributed between European Union member states 

The 141 migrants onboard the MV Aquarius, including 73 children, will be disembarked in Malta before being sent to a number of Europan countries, the government has announced. 

Following discussions between France and Malta, a number of European Union member states - with the support of the European Commission - agreed on a responsibility sharing exercise regarding the rescued migrants on board the rescue vessel MV Aquarius.

The decision ends a four-day standoff which had seen Italy, Spain and Tunisia refuse entry to the ship. The migrants had been rescued from boats off Libya.

In a statement issued this afternoon, the government said Malta would be making a concession and allowing the vessel to enter its ports, despite having no legal obligation to do so. Malta will serve as a logistical base and all of the reportedly 141 migrants on board will be distributed amongst France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain.

Back in June, the MV Aquarius was carrying 629 migrants rescued within the Libyan search and rescue region, making Lampedusa its nearest safe port. The Italian government, however, had refused to grant the vessel access to any of its ports. Malta had also refused to allow the vessel to enter Malta and the MV Aquarius later made its way to Valencia. 

READ MORE:  Aquarius standoff: As Malta and Italy squabble, migrants pray on stranded ship

On Monday, Malta also rescued a further 114 persons at sea. 60 persons from this rescue operation will also be distributed among other member states as part of the joint EU cooperation.

This is the second time such a voluntary mechanism was put into place following that relating to the MV Lifeline. 

The Maltese government said it considers this to be a concrete example of European leadership and solidarity.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, Amnesty International called on Malta and Italy to “stop playing with refugees and migrants’ lives by closing ports”.

The NGO’s Senior Campaigner on Migration, Maria Serrano, said that European governments must stop playing with human lives. 

“Italy and Malta’s disgraceful refusal to allow refugees and migrants to disembark in their ports is pure cruelty. These individuals have braved dangerous journeys and inhumane conditions in Libya only to be stranded at sea as governments shamelessly abdicate their responsibility to protect.” 

Serrao said that Gibraltar, under whose flag Aquarius has been sailing, also threatened to terminate the registration of the ship, “in a bureaucratic manoeuvre designed to frustrate life-saving search and rescue operations at sea.”

“The relentless efforts of NGOs to rescue lives at sea should be celebrated, not hindered or punished.”

Amnesty International called on European leaders to urgently agree on the search and rescue system to ensure the prompt disembarkation of survivors at the closest safe port, upholding the law of the sea and the primacy of saving lives in the Mediterranean. 

“Coastal States must ensure their ports are open to those who have been rescued, and other European governments must share the responsibility of processing asylum claims by taking in asylum-seekers.”